Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Circassian Opposition to 2014 Sochi Olympics Worries Moscow

Paul Goble

Vienna, July 15 – Growing opposition by Circassians inside the Russian Federation and abroad to Moscow’s plans to hold the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, the site of the tsarist-era genocide of their ancestors, has prompted the Russian authorities to launch a two-pronged campaign against this opposition.
On the one hand, Russian operatives have been promoting the idea of holding what they call Circassian Good Will Games in 2012, both to divide Circassian opinion and to confuse outsiders about the historical and moral issues involved at Sochi and the position of the Circassians with regard to them.
And on the other, a Moscow writer has suggested that it is not the Circassian people but Islamist elements that are responsible for opposing the Sochi games, an indication that Russian operatives will make use of this as well to split the Circassians and to isolate them from potential Western supporters by suggesting that radical Islam is behind their objections.
The first of these efforts is already failing, reports from the North Caucasus this week suggest, and the second is likely to, given the nature of Circassian nationalism, something the Russian authorities were quite willing to make use of as a source of support for Abkhazia during Moscow’s invasion of Georgia in August 2008 (
While some Circassians had discussed the idea of convening a Circassian Olympic Games already in 2002 before dismissing it as too expensive, the current proposal for convening such an event in August 2012 was offered by Sufyan Zhemukhov, historical commission head of the Coordinating Council of Circassian Public Organizations of Kabardinia-Balkaria.
Zhemukhov said his proposal was intended to provide “propaganda of the Circassian aspect at the Olympiad in Sochi,” an admission that divided the Circassian community, with some seeing this as a way to use the games to call international attention to the genocide and others seeing it as a means of undercutting those Circassians opposed to the 2014 games.
At a meeting in Kabardino-Balkaria last weekend, Zhemukhov’s idea was subjected to sharp criticism by Circassian leaders who denounced it as “poorly thought out, premature, and populist,” and not something they or the members of their organizations would want to have anything to do.
Mukhamed Khafitse, the head of Adyge Khase, said that he was opposed because such a measure would simply cost too much. Another noted that “only the Olympic Committee” can organize an Olympics. And a third said that the whole idea reminded him of Ostap Bender’s proposal to hold an inter-planetary chess competition, something unrealizable on its face.
Given such objections to this idea, the Russian authorities are clearly looking for another way to marginalize the Circassians; and in the current issue of “NG-Religii,” Naima Neflyasheva, a researcher at the Moscow Center of Civilizational and Regional Investigations of the Academy of Sciences, offers one (
After a brief survey of the history of the Circassians in tsarist Russia and of “the three million person strong” diaspora “in 50 countries of the world,” Neflyasheva notes that this nation, and especially senior generals in Turkey and Jordan who are of Circassian background “have always reacted to what is taking place in Russia.”
The Circassian diaspora “supported” Russia during the Georgian war “in numerous meetings in Turkey, Syria and Europe. “And it was not without the influence of the powerful Circassian lobby,” she notes, that Jordan provided humanitarian assistance to South Ossetia and Turkey, unlike other members of NATO, did not condemn Russia for the Georgia war.
But now, Neflyasheva continues, many Circassians are angry not only about Moscow’s failure to offer their the same repatriation conditions that the Russian government offers Russians but also and especially at Moscow’s plans to stage the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, the site of their greatest national tragedy.
After attempting to discredit the Circassian Congress, which is opposed to the games and whose leader has called them “an Olympics of Lies,” by suggesting that it wants to disorder the entire Russian Caucasus by pursuing “the fantastic” notion of a “Greater Circassia,” the Moscow researcher turns to her main theme.
According to her, “the crisis in the traditional culture” of the Circassians of the North Caucasus has opened the way for the spread of Islamist ideas among them. And she argues that the “jamaat in Adygeya” includes radicals who see anger about the Sochi Olympics as a way to advance their own agendas.
Indeed, this anger offers “a resource which in the hands of experienced political technologists has every chance to mean that the fire of Prometheus who was chained to the Caucasus mountains – one of the bright phrases of the speech of Vladimir Putin to the IOC meeting in Guatemala – will ignite passions other than Olympic ones” there.

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